These codes are not legally binding, but they contain commitments that contestants agree to adhere to and encourage their supporters to respect. As such, codes of conduct provide a basis by which citizens, media and other watchdog groups can benchmark their assessment of the campaign. Often, to further draw attention to the commitments, senior elected officials, election administrators, and notable religious, business and civic leaders take part in public signings and public roundtables about the code (which in the time of coronavirus are virtual).
We have found that just seeing the competing candidates affirm publicly their commitment to democratic norms can have an enormous psychological impact on the general public and can help counter the divisive negative campaigning that might otherwise dominate political discourse during an election. The Carter Center has drafted a suggested code of conduct and we’re contacting the four candidates to ask them to sign it.
Among its key elements, such a code should:
- Require that candidates and others actively denounce all acts or threats of violence and ask their supporters to behave in a respectful and non-provocative manner toward those who hold or express competing views, including by avoiding the use of language, symbols, memes and gestures that are inflammatory, defamatory, or constitute hate speech.
- Reassure voters that all voting procedures authorized by law – including absentee voting, voting early in person, and voting on Election Day – are safe, secure and reliable, and have built-in checks and controls to ensure integrity of the elections. And that all such ballots, when legally cast, should be counted.
- Emphasize that the counting process must be conducted in a transparent manner, which includes the opportunity for accredited poll watchers, including those representing the competing candidates, to observe all aspects of the counting process.
- Commit the parties and candidates to train poll watchers on their roles, responsibilities, and obligations at polling sites, including refraining from illegal behaviors that have an intimidating effect, or that constitute harassment.
- Commit the parties and candidates to respect the process itself, to acknowledge the legal system as the appropriate means of raising any concerns about the conduct of the election, and to agree to abide by the outcome of that system.
The preparation and publicizing of a code of conduct is a public affirmation that parties and candidates, even in the midst of a hotly contested campaign, recognize the need to lower the temperature and to reinforce the core belief that underlies an electoral democracy: The people’s will, as determined through the free vote of eligible voters, must be respected.
Georgians deserve candidates and party leaders willing to commit to that principle.
Paige Alexander is CEO of The Carter Center, a nonprofit organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Based in Atlanta, it works around the world to resolve conflicts; advance democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; prevent disease; and improve mental health care.